Shrimp Cocktail


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Shrimp cocktail is a timeless holiday appetizer! Chilled jumbo shrimp (that get a fresh squeeze of lemon) are dipped in a zesty, bright red cocktail sauce – now what’s more festive than that?

Shrimp cocktail on a platter with sauce.

Shrimp Cocktail is a Classic Holiday Appetizer

Sure, it’s easy to purchase a pre-made platter of shrimp cocktail from the market. But this homemade version tastes ah-mazing, and it’s really easy to make! It’s a simple process of poaching shrimp, mixing up my extra tasty version of shrimp cocktail sauce, and arranging everything on a platter to serve.

Homemade shrimp cocktail tastes much fresher than store-bought versions. And bonus – it can be made a day in advance, which is what we all like to hear to reduce stress while planning a Thanksgiving menu or Christmas dinner. So do yourself a favor, and make this shrimp cocktail recipe during the holiday season. It’ll make you look like one heck of a chef, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit!

Ingredients for shrimp cocktail on a table

Shrimp Cocktail ingredients

The shrimp itself doesn’t need much, unless you make a poaching liquid with extra flavor boosters such as garlic, peppercorns, or herbs. Then, you simply have to mix up a quick cocktail sauce! Here’s what’s in it.

  • Jumbo Shrimp: Since this is a shrimp-heavy appetizer, I always prefer to buy fresh, raw shrimp the morning the day before from my local fish monger. But don’t worry you can also use frozen! See my tips in the next section below.
  • Lemons: You’ll need a few lemons, all which will be used in different ways (i.e. for the poaching liquid, cocktail sauce, and serving).
  • Ketchup: Use your favorite ketchup brand here since this is the base of the cocktail sauce.
  • Prepared Horseradish: Make sure to grab prepared horseradish versus horseradish sauce. There’s a difference!
  • Worcestershire Sauce: Just 2 teaspoons are needed for a hint of umami flavor. If you’re gluten-free (as I am) make sure to double-check the ingredient list!
  • Hot Sauce: For a spicy kick, I like to use Tabasco. But you can use any hot sauce!

Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

Fresh versus Frozen Shrimp

Both fresh and frozen jumbo shrimp work great in this recipe. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when shopping for either one.

  • Fresh shrimp: If you’re buying fresh shrimp in a coastal area, make sure to ask your fishmonger where it’s coming from. You don’t want fish that’s been sitting out on ice for a long time, or if it’s been previously frozen and then thawed. It’s gotta be “fresh” catches of the day!
  • Frozen shrimp: For convenience, especially if you don’t live near the coast, grab a bag of frozen shrimp! Any jumbo shrimp will work. Just make sure the bag states that the shrimp is deveined and tails are removed. I also recommend buying wild-caught.

How To Make Shrimp Cocktail

The only cooking you’ll need to do is poaching the shrimp. And that only takes 3 minutes! So make sure to set your timer to prevent the shrimp from overcooking.

After that, all that’s left to do is to stir together the sauce in a separate bowl and arrange everything on a platter. Pretty simple for a fancy appetizer eh?

Poach the shrimp. Fill a large pot with water and salt. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the lemon halves into the water. For additional poaching liquid ideas – see the note below! Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Add the shrimp and let them poach for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, or until they’re pink and firm.

Poaching liquid tips: The base of the poaching liquid should always have some salt and lemon. But if you want to add a bit more flavor to the shrimp, you can also toss in whole garlic cloves, sliced ginger pieces, halved onions, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and fresh herb.

Shrimp in a colander for shrimp cocktail

Drain and chill the shrimp. Drain the shrimp in a colander and let them cool for a few minutes, until they’re not steaming anymore. Then place them in the fridge to cool completely.

Cocktail sauce in a bowl for shrimp cocktail

Make the cocktail sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, prepared horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.

Shrimp cocktail in a glass

Serve on a platter. Serve the shrimp over ice on a large platter, along with the cocktail sauce and extra lemon wedges. Or, you can serve the sauce in a smaller glass with shrimp hanging off the edges!

Dipping shrimp into cocktail sauce

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips

  • To store: Any leftover shrimp or cocktail sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
  • To make-ahead: Yep, you can make this entire recipe a day in advance! Just store the shrimp and cocktail sauce in the fridge in separate containers. Then, assemble everything on a platter with ice right before serving!

More Party Appetizers

Appetizers can honestly be the highlight of a holiday dinner party. So don’t skimp out and make any of these favorites below. They’ll get your guests excited for what’s to come the rest of the meal!

There’s always a place for a shrimp cocktail platter during the holidays. If you give it a try, let me know how it turned out in a comment below. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

A platter of shrimp cocktail on ice

Shrimp Cocktail

5 from 8 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Chill Time: 5 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan


This shrimp cocktail platter will forever be a timeless holiday appetizer! Plus, I've got the perfect cocktail sauce recipe to pair with it. Watch the video below to see how I make it in my kitchen!



  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • Optional: flavor-boosters for poaching liquid, such as garlic, ginger, onion, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and fresh herbs.
  • 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, (tail-on and deveined)
  • extra lemon wedges for serving

For the cocktail sauce


  • Poach the shrimp. Fill a large pot with water and salt. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the lemon halves into the water. Optional: add aromatics to the poaching liquid (see ideas above). Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Add the shrimp and let them poach for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, or until they're pink and firm.
    Poached shrimp in a pot for shrimp cocktail
  • Drain and chill the shrimp. Drain the shrimp in a colander, let cool for a few minutes, then place in the fridge to cool completely.
    Chilled shrimp in a colander for shrimp cocktail
  • Make the cocktail sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.
    Mixing cocktail sauce in a bowl for shrimp cocktail
  • Serve on a platter. Serve the shrimp over ice on a large platter, along with the cocktail sauce and extra lemon wedges.
    Shrimp cocktail on a platter next to lemon wedges

Lisa’s Tips

  • For many shrimp recipes you typically cool the shrimp quickly in an ice water bath. But if you do that for this recipe you’ll remove much of the extra flavor from the poaching liquid. So just drain and then chill! 
  • If you’re serving this up in individual glasses, you’ll likely need to double or triple the cocktail sauce recipe, as the individual glasses need a bit more sauce to look full. 


Calories: 118kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 1539mg | Potassium: 255mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 363IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Shrimp Cocktail, Shrimp Cocktail Recipe
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Would love to know where you got the little bowls for individual servings. Most I’m finding are a tad too big. Thank you!5 stars

  2. Thank you I always get compliments when I use this recipe. I add peppercorns and smashed garlic to the poaching water and finish with extra lemon juice. I love the pink Argentina shrimp for this recipe.5 stars

  3. Thank you, Lisa! I made this for the first time yesterday, and we all totally enjoyed it! The cocktail sauce was spot on. Will never buy a prepackaged shrimp tray again! I also gave your cookbook as a gift. Merry Christmas!5 stars

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed the shrimp cocktail, Margot! And thanks so much for buying my cookbook as well. Merry Christmas!

  4. I just prepared this. Just added more horseradish and hot sauce as I like it a bit more spicy. I am sure my guests will love it along with the deviled eggs I prepped for tomorrow.5 stars

  5. I’m excited to be trying this for the 1st time this Christmas! Wondering what brand of ketchup Lisa recommends. I couldn’t track that down on her site. Thank you!

  6. Seriously, this could not have been easier or more delicious!! (Where has this at home menu item been all my life??) So easy and delicious I’m already planning to serve it again for my spring and summer menus!! Note to friends; If you’re coming to my house, you’re going to eat shrimp! (hint: go ahead and flavor the poaching liquid. *chefs kiss)5 stars

    1. Glad this worked out perfectly! Excited for you to bring this to all your spring/summer festivities.

  7. This was wonderful! Made this as one of the snack-y appetizers for New Years Day, and everyone in the family loved it. (Even my one child who doesn’t normally like shrimp!) They have all begged that I make it every year from now on. ;) Thanks for a new favorite. I used frozen raw shrimp, and it worked well!5 stars

  8. I made this last night for the first time. It was a Christmas appetizer that could not be beat. This was such a hit! 5 star restaurant recipe here! This will be a go to recipe from now on.  Super easy to make and so very good!  Give it a try. You’ll love it!  Thanks again Lisa, for making me look good 😉5 stars

  9. I just finished making your recipe for shrimp cocktail sauce and it is PERFECT!
    I’m so glad you posted this. I recently tried a “clean” brand of shrimp cocktail that was very expensive and tasted terrible! It was sickly sweet and I threw it out. Your recipe tastes exactly like cocktail sauce should taste. I’ll be making this recipe from now on.5 stars

  10. In your video dated December 17, 2022, at the three minutes and fourty seconds mark, you state that you will have a full list of brand reccomendations for this recipe. Where can we find this list?

  11. Hi! I don’t see the brand recommendations in the blog post.. .. ??? I want to make this so badly, I have everything but the prepared horseradish! :D I’m going to get some tomorrow!

  12. Hi Lisa!

    Another fabulous recipe! I was curious…to eat the exact amount of 118 calories, how many shrimp is that, and how much of the cocktail sauce? Thank you! 😍

    1. Hi Heather – which ingredients in the sauce are you referring to for brand recommendation? I would say use ones you typically like for the best flavor!